Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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You are not far from the kingdom of God.

You are not far from the kingdom of God. (Mark 12:34)

If you’re not surprised by Jesus’ words to the scribe, maybe you need to read this passage again! Over and over again, we see Jesus correcting or rebuking the members of Jerusalem’s religious establishment. But not this time. Instead, he listens respectfully to a man who has just asked him what might be another trick question, answers him carefully, and encourages him on his journey of faith. So what does this unusual encounter reveal?

From the scribe’s remarks, we can tell that this fellow was genuinely interested in Jesus. He even agreed with him that loving God and one’s neighbor are equally important. Clearly, he had some understanding of the truth that Jesus was preaching. But Jesus didn’t just congratulate him—he encouraged him to go deeper. He knew that to be “not far” from the kingdom of God is like being an exhausted traveler who finds himself “not far” from an oasis. How will he get to the water? Obviously, he could use a little help!

What the scribe lacks is Jesus. He is close to the kingdom because he knows what God requires of him, but he still hasn’t entered in. To be “in” the kingdom of God means knowing that only Jesus’ perfect righteousness meets the requirements of the commandments: his whole life, from his birth to his death on the cross, was an act of total obedience to God and love of neighbor. To be “in” the kingdom also means to accept the salvation that Jesus is offering. It appears that this scribe had just encountered Jesus, and for all we know, he may have been just moments away from taking that step.

It is tempting to give up on people who seem to be far from God. Yet like the scribe, they may be just one or two steps away! It’s better that we do as Jesus did and meet people where they are instead of trying to judge their spiritual condition. It’s better, too, that we take heart from anything they say or do that reveals a desire for the Lord or an agreement with his words. Rather than despair—or condemn—it is far better to encourage and support.

“Jesus, help me to reach out to those who are searching for you.”

Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1, 9-17; 8:4-9; Psalm 128:1-5

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